Today's Papers

The Bushie, the Baker, the Deal Maker

The Washington Post leads with the fourth consecutive month of job creation. (The New York Times off-leads this, and the Los Angeles Times reefers it.) The NYT leads with President Bush’s appointment of James Baker, Bush pere’s secretary of state, as debt-reduction envoy to Iraq. (This is fronted by the LAT and reefered by the Post.) The LAT leads with the Army’s admission that 40 percent of its troops will not be combat ready for a six month period next year. (This is fronted by the Post.)

The economy gained 57,000 jobs in November, about a third of what analysts had predicted. (137,000 jobs were created in October.) Such a lackluster number, in the midst of an economy that grew at a breathtaking 8.2 percent annual rate in the third quarter, is attributed in part to continuing productivity gains. (As the papers reported Thursday, productivity grew 9.4 percent annually last quarter, the highest rate in 20 years.) As might be expected in such a climate, temp jobs grew, as did hours worked. The economy has gained 328,000 jobs in the last four months, but has lost 1.1 million since the recovery began two years ago (NYT) and 2.35 million since the recession began in early 2001 (WP). The Post notes that analysts are predicting a 3 percent productivity rate and 4 percent growth rate next year; combined with a usual labor-force expansion of 1 percent, this would spell very few jobs.

November’s unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a point, to 5.9 percent. However, the percentage of unemployed who have been job hunting for at least six months rose to its highest level since 1983. Last month, TP chided the papers for failing to explain the frequent dissonance between payroll numbers and the unemployment rate, which is based on a survey. Props to the NYT for explicating these statistical discrepancies at the end of its story today.

All the papers note that Baker will report directly to Bush and will not be paid. In addition to negotiating debt restructuring and forgiveness with Iraq’s creditors, he will act as America’s unofficial image buffer abroad. (Iraq owes about $40 billion to G-7 countries, $80 billion to other countries, and $100 billion in war reparations, chiefly to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.) The NYT says that the appointment was urged by the Iraqi Governing Council; the WP says it was Paul Bremer’s doing. The Post reminds readers that when it revealed a possible Baker appointment in July, the White House called its report “false, inaccurate, insubstantial.” The NYT, in its second paragraph, plays the appointment as “a public admission by the White House that the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq is a more urgent problem than officials acknowledge.” Wouldn’t it be equally valid to interpret it as evidence that Bush cares as much about Iraq’s long-term economic prosperity as he does its short-term security?

The Army acknowledged that by lowering the combat-readiness of four of its divisions—more than 100,000 soldiers—it was gambling that it would not need to fight a major war elsewhere, such as in North Korea. The “senior Army official” who briefed the LAT and WP called this a “manageable risk” and stressed that the divisions could be readied for combat shortly if a real need arose. The LAT notes that 369,000 of the Army’s 1.04 million active-duty and reserve troops are stationed outside the United States. It credits the Wall Street Journal, before the jump, with breaking this story Tuesday. The Post does not credit.

The NYT reveals that the Air Force’s top acquisitions official, Marvin Sambur, sent e-mail to top Pentagon brass in late November urging that the Defense Department sign a contract with Boeing despite indications that the contract had been negotiated unethically. (In the two days preceding his e-mails, Boeing had fired two executives who negotiated the contract, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had expressed misgivings about the deal.) Sambur, who had been a direct supervisor to one of the fired Boeing executives when she had worked at the Air Force, also forwarded internal Pentagon correspondence to another Boeing executive during negotiations. (Sambur tells the Times that this was a deliberate negotiating ploy to demonstrate the Pentagon’s willingness to back out.) On Monday, Boeing’s CEO resigned—partly as a result of an ongoing investigation into whether the Air Force let Boing see the bid of a competing contractor—and the Defense Department put the Boeing contract on hold, despite Sambur’s lobbying.

The WP and NYT report inside that the College Board plans to introduce a Chinese language Advanced Placement exam in the spring of 2007. (It has already announced the introduction of an Italian exam, in 2006, and plans to develop tests for Russian and Japanese.) The Chinese government and private foundations will split the $1.4 million cost—the Italian test is funded similarly—a fact that prompts standardized-test opponents to sound like 1950s red baiters. “Will [the Chinese government] be able to specify or influence the content of the exam?” one tells the Post. “Can they, for example, urge the inclusion of reading passages from the Little Red Book?” 

All the papers note that a bomb killed one U.S. soldier and three Iraqis in Baghdad yesterday.

The Post’s “Names and Faces” column exposes a bit of gastronomic hypocrisy from presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. On Thursday, Lieberman vowed to “stand up to the companies that market junk food to kids.” In August, however, Lieberman downed a fried Twinkie at the Iowa State Fair and announced that his “vision for the future of America includes deep-fried Twinkies.” Of course, Lieberman has since pulled out of the Iowa caucuses—presumably to avoid the ignominy of pandering to gluttonous farm folk.